Philip Wagreich, 1941-2013

Philip Wagreich

Philip Wagreich, professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services, 1996

Philip Wagreich, a national leader in math education and retired director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Mathematics and Science Education, died Jan. 1 of a heart attack. He was 71.

Wagreich, who was professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at UIC and an expert on algebraic geometry, joined the faculty in 1973. In 1985, he turned his attention to revitalizing education and founded the office of mathematics and computer education within the department. Under his leadership it became a major center for mathematician-led work in mathematics education.

“In addition to his mathematical prowess and his wonderful human qualities, we should remember Phil’s profound impact on this department and mathematics education,” said his colleague John Baldwin. “He spearheaded a mathematics education program, which in its depth of impact on the preparation and professional development of K-12 teachers, is virtually unmatched. We will miss him both personally and professionally.”

Wagreich and Howard Goldberg, UIC professor emeritus of physics, used National Science Foundation grants to create the Teaching Integrated Mathematics and Science Project. The well-known Math Trailblazers K-5 curriculum, developed by TIMS in 1997, is still in use today across the country.

“Unlike many mathematicians, Phil had a natural ability of being able to decipher how children come to understand mathematics and how to help them learn mathematical concepts and skills,” said Martin Gartzman, executive director of the University of Chicago Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, and a long-time collaborator with Wagreich. “Phil became a role model for the substantive involvement of research mathematicians nationally in precollege mathematics education.”

Wagreich was a co-director of the Mathematicians and Education Reform Forum, a national clearinghouse that built a program of interconnected K-12, undergraduate, and graduate-level educational activities for mathematicians. From 1997 to 2000 he was a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Principles and Standards for School Mathematics writing team that developed standards for curriculum, teaching, and evaluation in grades K-12.

Wagreich received the Excellence in Integrated Mathematics & Science Award from the School Science and Mathematics Association in 1992 and the Max Beberman Award for contributions to mathematics education from the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1996.

A graduate of Brandeis University, Wagreich received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University. He was a lecturer at Brandeis and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the faculty at UIC as associate professor in 1973. He was named professor in 1978. He was a member of UIC’s Learning Science Research Institute.

Wagreich is remembered as a fine teacher, collaborator and friend by many UIC colleagues. “He always had time for students who came to see him,” said Janice Nekola, assistant to the director at the Institute for Mathematics and Science Education, who worked with Wagreich for many years. “He was a generous spirit.”

Wagreich is survived by his wife, Lorraine Owles; his children Heidi, Ian, Amy and Alexander; and four grandchildren. A memorial is planned for later this year. The family requests contributions to West Suburban PADS, Sarah’s Inn, the Greater Chicago Food Depository or the Children’s Clinic of Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society.
– UIC –

NOTE: Please refer to the institution as the University of Illinois at Chicago on first reference and UIC on second reference. “University of Illinois” and “U. of I.” are often assumed to refer to our sister campus in Urbana-Champaign.

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